By: Hawk Ripjaw (Six Pack) –
In a high school in Massachusetts, four best friends Wren (Joey King), Hallie (Julia Goldani Telles), Chloe (Jaz Sinclair), and Katie (Annalise Basso) spend their days talking about teenage girls stuff and harassing boys. After learning that the boys are gathering one night to “summon Slenderman,” the girls decide to do the same by visiting a webpage and clicking a not-at-all-suspicious link leading to a Ring-style creepy black and white montage. The next day, during a field trip, Katie mysteriously vanishes without a trace.
The girls locate Katie’s laptop and find webpages and links to videos about Slenderman (the laptop is a Dell, because Sony products would never be infected by evil malware). It becomes more clear that Slenderman has taken Katie. Wren is messaged by a mysterious stranger telling her that the girls must go into the woods with something of value to them, blindfold themselves, and wait for Slenderman to appear and release Katie. Wren brings a mug from 5th grade pottery, Chloe brings the only picture she has of her late father, and Hallie brings a hat, I think. Despite being told to not look Slenderman in the face, Choe immediately removes her blindfold to look around. Slenderman appears, everybody runs, and the next day Chloe is skipping school because she is going crazy. Hallie tries to ignore the sightings of Slenderman as they become more frequent. Wren becomes increasingly erratic as she looks for answers to Slenderman and related abductions of teenagers in small towns. Unfortunately, the one question she’ll never be able to answer is how, even after Wish Upon, she’s found herself in another terrible horror film.
To director Sylvain White’s credit, he does have a couple of interesting & creepy ideas to show in Slender Man, with one of the best being early in the film. The girls are gathered around a laptop, reading about Slenderman, while a long shadow slowly grows on the wall behind them. It’s mostly in the background, there isn’t any rising music to direct attention, and it’s a nice, subtle visual of Slenderman’s growing presence. Frankly, there’s also a genuinely creepy sequence involving a video call to Chloe where she watches the invisible caller filming himself walking through the house. It doesn’t really make sense in terms of what Slenderman does, but on its own it’s surprisingly intense and fun.
There’s a specific bit of sound editing involving creaking trees in the forest, which makes for a pretty cool effect when combined with the occasional habit of Slenderman to be hiding somewhere in the background. It’s really unfortunate that there wasn’t more of this subtlety in the rest of the movie, because these quieter, slower moments of unease are far more effective than the jump scares the rest of the movie relies so heavily upon.
Every single character in Slender Man is massively stupid or just a jerk. In the first fifteen minutes, we get a couple of scenes of the girls laughing, acting like teenage girls as an adult male screenwriter might imagine they’d behave, and saying inane meme shit like “circlejerk.” After Katie disappears, everyone starts doing exactly the sorts of things that get horror movie characters killed all the time. Heard something scary? Why not run into the woods in the middle of the night to investigate! Don’t look at Slenderman’s face lest you lose your mind? Might as well remove a blindfold to see him! See the gates and tree Slenderman emerges from in the first video? Why, I’ll just go right over there! The way that characters are engineered to do stupid things just for the next scare in the film is one of the more egregious examples of the trope in recent memory.
Inexplicably, Hallie decides to write off Slenderman entirely halfway through the movie. Despite literally seeing him a scene earlier, she insists that the creepy video’s source is someone weird dude in a basement, and leaves the scene for a date she has with a guy. This amounts to essentially nothing, besides one of the lone great unintentional laughs of the movie is when Slenderman briefly “possesses” the boyfriend.
There’s barely even a plot here—events progress as “This happens, then this happens, and then they go into the woods, and then this thing happens, and then this happens for some reason,” and on and on until the movie just ends. It’s a series of things happening with not much of an actual plot or three act structure.
It culminates in a revelation by one of the characters that’s edited like those trademark Saw reveals where a quickly-edited series of moments are shown to have been linked to this huge twist while dramatic music plays. Except here, the reveal is not only obvious, it feels like the movie was directly telegraphing that from the beginning. Slenderman doesn’t want something you love, he wants to take you and your loved ones!
Wren, obviously Slenderman isn’t going to want your stupid fucking mug from 5th grade pottery as an offering to save your friend.
This also cheapens the whole narrative. If the whole hook of Slenderman is to sacrifice a loved one to get your friend back, and the bait and switch is that he wants you instead, then what is the point of having that lore in the first place? Why does he spend the entire movie clowning around and popping up to scare the girls, for that matter?
While it’s commonplace for a finished film to not feature certain scenes from the trailer, entire sections have been removed from Slender Man. At least a couple of characters that seemed set to die just… stop showing up in the movie with hardly any mention of them, and their death scenes in the trailer are nowhere to be seen.
There was some backlash to this movie related to the real-life 2014 incident in which two 12 year old girls stabbed their friend to “appease Slenderman.” The production of a movie based on Slenderman was accused of being in poor taste. It appears that Sony and Screen Gems got cold feet in regards to any actual violence in the movie, and removed those scenes entirely without editing the remaining film to be coherent. So, some characters just end up no longer existing without any explanation.
The editing in general is disastrous, ruining any sense of narrative flow or passage of time. When Katie gets taken, a shot of her staring into the woods cuts to some shots of the sky and trees, then a shot of police and children gathered around the same setting. One would guess that she was taken, but it’s not actually illustrated until Wren is shown leaving a message for her asking here where she went. Later, Katie’s alcoholic father breaks into Hallie’s home and practically physically assaults her, resulting in his arrest. A couple of scenes later he’s back at his house, with no apparent consequence to his aggression.
For any of these sorts of boogeyman films to be effective, the monster needs to be compelling, to have a purpose, to be specifically frightening and memorable. Slender Man doesn’t really have any rules, he doesn’t have lore, and there’s not really anything specifically unique about him to turn him into a horror icon.
That illustrates what might not be Slender Man’s biggest problem, but is still one with the tightest grip holding the movie back from being better. The context and background of Slenderman makes the character ripe for commentary, be it mental illness, teenage angst, fixations, or obsession with social media. The film explores none of these. There are hints at how exposure to Slenderman slowly drives those who summon him insane, but the script is uninterested in the urban lore of the monster and instead just goes after a generic PG-13 teen horror movie. But when there aren’t any rules for what you’re supposed to be afraid of, there is almost literally nothing scary or tense that happens.
Slender Man is an astonishing failure as a horror film and as a movie altogether. Hacked to pieces in the editing room, it barely has any narrative flow, and moments of actual tension can be counted on one hand. Slenderman himself is little more than window dressing, popping up every once in a while to distract the girls from trying to find their missing friend and not really registering as a truly sinister force. When he does appear, the sequences are so poorly lit it’s difficult to even see what’s going on.
It’s not even so bad it’s funny. It’s just plain bad, very boring, and completely devoid of impact.
Slender Man (2018) Movie Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever someone yells someone else’s name
Do a Shot: for every jump scare
Take a Drink: for every shot of trees
Take a Drink: for every Ring-style creepy montage
Do a Shot: for every reheated horror movie trope